HC Deb 10 July 1973 vol 859 cc1232-3
1. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what evidence he has regarding the revival of sweatshop labour in London and elsewhere.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)

I am aware of the problem of small clothing factories housed in unsuitable premises in London and other cities. Inspectors of factories have been concerned about these poor conditions, and legal proceedings have been taken in a number of cases.

Mr. Meacher

Will the Minister confirm that it is his belief that sweatshops are mushrooming in London's East End? Have checks been made in northern textile towns such as Bradford and Oldham? Is he aware that the law relating to safety and health regulations and the payment of tax and national insurance is being repeatedly flouted and that despite this there were only 10 prosecutions last year? Does he not agree that to have only five inspectors for 5,000 factories in inner London is grossly inadequate? What plans has he to increase the number tenfold?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Member has asked a number of questions. I do not agree that these places are mushrooming. Probably they have been slightly on the increase. The Factory Inspectorate is well aware of this, and one of the reasons why we convened joint consultations with local authorities was to see what further action could be taken. I have asked them to report back to me. So far this year the inspectorate has brought 29 successful prosecutions in the tailoring and garment-making industry. A further 11 are awaiting a court hearing. This is a difficult area. Many of these people are fly-by-nights operating for short periods. The inspectorate is well aware of the problem and where its responsibilities lie it does everything it possibly can.

Mr. Prentice

May I press the hon. Gentleman on the question of inspection? Will he confirm the figures given by my hon. Friend and, if so, will he admit that this is totally inadequate in relation to the problem? Will he take urgent steps to increase the inspectorate to deal with this difficult problem?

Mr. Smith

I cannot exactly confirm the figures, because the number of inspectors varies and they are moved around for different duties. The right hon. Member knows more than anyone that factory inspectors have a wide range of duties, of which this is one. If they devoted a disproportionate amount of time to so-called sweatshops, which is probably the wrong designation, other important areas would be neglected. All these questions come into focus in the Robens proposals and we shall undoubtedly be debating these in the course of future legislation.